by Steve Anthony, resident and student of all things Montevideo, who arrived in June of 2014 and plans to stay quite a while. He writes of the monuments everywhere in Montevideo
“Murga doesn’t represent the masses, they are the masses.” Yamando Cardazo, Director Agarrente, Catalina
I want to learn Spanish. I’m living in a Spanish-speaking country, obviously. But at this time, the time of Carnaval, I am inspired to learn Spanish so that next year when I attend Carnaval, I will understand the finer points of language use employed by the worker artists of Montevideo.
Not every participant is from Montevideo proper, but the majority are. There are several ways a performance artist might participate. There are murgas, parodistas, revistas, comparsas, who compete for prize money. I have much to learn and the process is quite enjoyable, a labor of love.
Probably like a lot of people, when I heard about Carnaval, I thought “Party” “Revelry”, some noisy drunks and nearly naked women.
Well, I now see carnaval as an alternate Universe. Carnaval is 2 parts performance, 6 parts training and working as a group, 2 parts family support and love (editor’s note: that’s 10 parts)
Love could be a jumping off point so we’ll touch on that. I want to focus on my favorite, the murgas. To be a murga, you need a strong and trained voice, a mime or dancer’s sense of movement, a sense of comedy, a high level of presentation. Acting most murgas are men, 13 singers, 1 director and a symbol – a snare drum and a large base drum in the Candombe style. The director often has a guitar that is used sparingly. A lot of the presentations are acapella singing. They provide social communication in the songs. A typical presentation may poke fun at the government, the legalization of mariuana, dogs and their owners, or the prisoners in Guantanamo.
They sing harmonies that pierce the night air as one powerful voice fills the space in us.
I Mentioned love as being an important element in all this the actors singers and dancers must love it they spend a lot of their spare time planning guiding building costumes and sets training voice and body
During 8 to 10 months of preparation for roughly one month of performance love is the main element ultimately the exchange between audience and performers reach a crescendo toward the end of the time limit which is imposed as part of the competition
As the singers are preparing to leave the crowd is on its feet performers and audiences are overcome with what I can only describe as love inspiration in appreciation for each other and appreciation for each other the audience is their loved ones family and friends the Mergus exit still singing and dancing into the crowd kisses hugs tears of joy and relief that come from just doing it make it make up smudged from face to face until at last the group handles in tight circles singing a last celebratory song of the elaborate heard dresses as the elaborate head dresses I thrown into the air if you can resist all this and not be swept up in pure joy of life you need a pulse check.